Back in the 1960s, comics companies had no advertising budgets, and there were no comic stores or fanzines or internet to keep customers informed of what other books the company was publishing. If you picked up a Fantastic Four comic and you liked it, the chances were you might be interested in X-Men as well. So the publishers would heavily cross-advertise their various titles in every other comic they published.
There was no doubt that DC, as the incumbent sales champions and most polished of the comics operations, had the best-looking house ads. Mostly designed by Ira Schnapp, the master letterer of most of DC Comics' covers, the DC ads were an object lesson in grabbing the customer's attention.
|Veteran DC editor Mort Weisinger was responsible for the|
copy, which was mostly pretty corny, but the text was elevated
by Ira Schnapp's impeccable sense of comics design.
And here's a confession to horrify everyone ... when I was ten, I was so impressed with the Marvel House ads that I clipped the miniature covers out of those ads with a pair of scissors and kept them as a kind of "Wants List". Yup, I totally vandalised my comics. Many years later, I bought some old Tales to Astonish at auction. The vendor hadn't checked the books carefully and had graded them as fine. But when I received them, you guessed it, some idiot had clipped the cover repros from the Marvel house ads. In the interests of karma, I'd like to think that idiot was my ten-year-old self. I certainly deserved it ...
|Maybe Stan's scattershot approach worked, |
because Marvel's sales rose while DC were falling.
However, there was an up side to this restriction. It meant, that Stan was able to advertise just about his whole line of super-hero comics in any one issue of his books, just using two house ads with four covers apiece. This, coupled with Stan's strategy of aggressive and regular guest-starring of a character in another hero's title, meant that the readers very quickly became accustomed to buying the entire Marvel output every month, something you just couldn't afford to do with DC comics.
|Wow ... even Millie the Model and the cowboy comics|
made it into this house ad from Tales to Astonish 66.
STILL DISCOVERING MARVEL COMICS
|With this level of traffic, it was no surprise that motorway |
service areas were a treasure trove of "old" comics.
|Holidays in Spain were still two or three |
years away for me in 1965, but a criminal
matador was an intriguing concept.
|Stan tries to squeeze two or three pages|
of exposition into a single page.
|Fire meets Ice - Jack Kirby's dynamic|
cover is a cross-over between the
Fantastic Four and the X-Men.
|Doctor Strange heroic battles the mystic forces of the |
haunted house only to discover its horrifying secret ...
|... the house is alive and malevolent. And only Doctor Strange|
has the power to force it to release its human captives.
Doctor Strange was to become one of my favourite characters and would remain so until the present day. At his best illustrated by Steve Ditko's art, subsequent artists like Gene Colan and Frank Brunner did the character no disservice at all, and I still remember the later run written by Steve Englehart with reverence.
|This doesn't look remotely like a|
superhero comic - which is what Stan intended.
|Taking Ant-Man's gas-cylinders, the Scarlet Beetle chucks|
our hero down a hole and sets off to cause mayhem among
the humans ...
|Restored to his normal size, Dr Henry Pym sets the little beetle |
free to live out the rest of his several-week lifespan, while the cops
wonder why Ant-Man never showed up to do their job for them ...
Next: From Explorer to Fan to Collector